Harding fights to return to ring, rink
Ex-skater files appeal on lifetime ban and dispels hockey rumor
Tonya Harding has a pro boxing match coming up Ñ March 20 in Oakland, Calif. Ñ and makes it clear that is her priority.
But another battle looms, this one with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the organization that issued a lifetime ban a decade ago as the result of the fabled Nancy Kerrigan incident.
Harding and manager-trainer Paul Brown soon will appeal to the skating association for at least partial reinstatement to allow the Portland area pugilist an opportunity to skate again on a national and/or international level.
'It is not intended to reinstate my amateur eligibility,' explains Harding, 33, who will face San Francisco novice Blanca Hilder on the undercard of a Hector Camacho Jr. card at Oakland Coliseum. 'I would first and foremost like the opportunity to skate professionally, whether in an exhibition or a competition.'
Harding has performed in one pro event, the ESPN pro-am in Huntington, W.Va., about three years ago. The problem, she says, comes with competitors being wary of jeopardizing their eligibility or being blackballed by promoters for participating in a show with her.
'Other skaters don't feel they can skate with me,' says the two-time Olympian. 'Ninety-nine percent of the professional shows run through the USFSA, so they control pretty much everything. Skaters don't want to rock the boat, don't want to take a risk because of who I am. Even though if they took the risk, they would make a lot of money.'
Harding hopes 10 years' penance will be enough and that the skating association will relax the ban or repeal it.
'Everybody deserves a second chance,' she says. 'There are so many people out there who want to see me skate. Skating has always been my passion. I hope they will feel I have paid my dues.'
Brown has authorized lawyers to draw up an appeal.
'Within two weeks, a formal letter will be filed with the (U.S. Figure Skating) organization,' Brown says. 'Hopefully, we will hear back within 30 days. It's good for both sides Ñ for Tonya as an individual and them for an organization. It would be good for the sport. She has paid her debts to society and should be given the opportunity to compete again.'
Harding's notions disputed
Lindsay Dewall, the skating association's director of media relations, says the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based body has no reaction until it receives an appeal.
'The lifetime ban is still in effect, and nothing has changed at this point,' Dewall says. 'It only bans her from USFSA events and does not include professional events such as Stars on Ice.'
Harding's contention that the skating association controls 99 percent of national-caliber skating events 'is false,' Dewall says. 'We run only USFSA events, which are for amateur participants.'
As for the notion that other competitors' eligibility is tainted by appearing in the same event as Harding, 'that is false as well,' Dewall says. 'Her ban has no effect on others she would compete against.'
The U.S Figure Skating Championships are scheduled for the Rose Garden next Jan. 9-16. Is Harding aiming for reinstatement of full eligibility so she can compete there?
'That is not the goal, but it would be great if that opportunity came,' she says. 'I would love to be able to skate in my hometown in an event like that.'
Brown says one way or another, Harding's athletic talents will be on display that week in Portland.
'We are booked for a bout in the convention center, depending on the outcome of the appeal with the USFSA,' Brown says. 'I hope she will be able to skate. If not, we are going to be across the street fighting in a nationally televised bout.'
Ice time increases
Since taking over as her boxing manager-trainer last year, Brown has encouraged her to cross-train through skating as a conditioning program for her boxing career. She hadn't skated for 18 months when she performed last month on a Swedish television special. 'Just some moving around, and some spins, that sort of thing,' she says.
It whetted her appetite to skate again. And when Harry Smith booked her for a segment on 'The Early Show' on CBS, he asked her to do a short skating routine. She complied, doing a 21Ú2-minute routine that was smooth and impressive, especially since she trained only six days for it. And, while washing dishes one night before the show, a glass broke in her hand, opening a cut that required nine stitches.
'That set me back,' she says. 'I didn't want to fall on the hand while skating and risk further injury. I didn't have a lot of time to prepare, but I thought I did pretty well. It could have been better, but it was a lot of fun. And it was good for me.'
Harding's plate has been full in recent weeks. From New York, where she appeared on 'The Early Show' on consecutive days, she flew to Los Angeles for a taping of 'The Man Show' that is scheduled to air in May. She got into the ring for a little sparring with co-host Doug Stanhope.
'I wore headgear, and he was supposed to wear it, too, but he thought he was better than that,' Harding says, chuckling.
Brown participated as referee.
'She busted him pretty good,' he says, adding that he didn't want to give away anything more before the show airs.
Harding is in Indianapolis this weekend but has not signed a contract to play with the Indianapolis Ice minor-league hockey club, as some media outlets have reported.
'I am doing an autograph-signing session, but there is no way I am getting on the ice to play hockey,' she says. 'I have no idea where that came from. There is going to be some puck-chewing when I get back there.'
A brawler no more
Harding says the priority these days is her boxing career. A breach-of-contract lawsuit by her former trainer, Brian Young of Memphis, Tenn., was dismissed this week, removing a potential roadblock to her association with Brown. Now Harding, 3-2 as a pro fighter, intends to show she means business in the ring.
'People in the past have thought this was maybe a publicity stunt,' she says. 'You don't put in the work I have if you're not serious about it. People are going to see a big difference in me (on March 20). There won't be the whaling arms like in the past. I have worked on controlled movement, the straight jabs and that sort of thing. I will look like a boxer and not just a brawler from now on. I am still not in top physical shape, but I am working every day on it.'
Harding says her mental outlook has never been better.
'I am absolutely happy with my life right now,' she says. 'I wake up every day looking forward to doing something with my life. It's hard to get up when you don't have anything to look forward to.
'I am not doing this to try to clean up my reputation or whatever. I couldn't care less what people think. I care what I think, and what the closest people around me think. I have made mistakes in my life I can't change, but you know what? I am a better person for making those mistakes. Now I may be able to help somebody else not to make the same mistakes.'